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23 November 2022

Wilko Johnson Dies Aged 75

Wilko Johnson
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Wilko Johnson, the much-loved singer-songwriter and former Dr Feelgood guitarist, has passed away aged 75.

The news of Johnson’s death was confirmed via a post on his official social media accounts, revealing that he died at home on Monday (21 November).

The tribute read: “This is the announcement we never wanted to make, & we do so with a very heavy heart: Wilko Johnson has died.

“He passed away at home on Monday 21st November. Thank you for respecting the family’s privacy at this very sad time. RIP Wilko Johnson.”

Johnson was born in Canvey Island, Essex, on 12 July 1947. In 1971 he formed Dr Feelgood alongside singer Lee Brilleaux and bassist John B Sparks. Inspired by US R&B but with a wry, English sensibility, Dr Feelgood’s high-energy live show made them a draw on the pub rock circuit. Johnson’s playing was key to Dr Feelgood’s appeal, a choppy, rhythmic style influenced by Bo Diddly but infused with a proto-punk attitude all of his own.

Their debut album, Down By The Jetty, set out Dr Feelgood’s stall and ushered in a period of increasing success. Johnson left the band in 1977 and started Solid Senders while also playing with The Wilko Johnson band. In 1980, Johnson became a member of Ian Dury’s band, The Blockheads.

Ten years ago Johnson survived what was initially diagnosed as a terminal case of pancreatic cancer. The guitarist refused chemotherapy to embark on a farewell tour.

“The decision was quite easy – chemotherapy could do no more than extend my life for a relatively short period and I thought I’d just rather enjoy the health that was left to me,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live at the time.

Johnson made good on his promise, releasing a string of well-receieved albums, including 2014’s Going Back Home with Roger Daltrey. He also starred in two series of Game Of Thrones as the mute executioner Ser Ilyn Payne.

However, later tests discovered that Johnson’s pancreatic cancer was in fact a rare and less aggressive neuroendocrine tumour. He underwent a radical, 11-hour operation that removed his pancreas, spleen and parts of his stomach and intestines, and was declared cancer-free in 2014.

In a touching interview with The Big Issue in 2015, Johnson was asked what period of his life he’d return to, given the choice, “If I could go back and live one time in my life over again, I’d go to the mid-’70s. Things were good for me then. I had everything I ever wanted. Money. Sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Dr Feelgood were doing great. I had my little family. I always had a video camera and I have hours and hours of home video footage. When I watch them I see Irene – that doesn’t upset me, she’s there, that’s great. Then I see my son, a little toddler, in the back garden and oh dear, he breaks my heart. You have kids, oh man, and you love them so much. What can you love more than a three-year-old kid? But time is constantly taking them away from you. That three-year-old kid, you’re never going to see him again.”

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